Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

Writing, Revising, and Chiseling: Seven Steps to Done.

Writing, Revising, and Chiseling: Seven Steps to Done.
Natalie Standiford_Revising like a sculptor_60second Recap

Natalie Standiford's latest book,
The 39 Clues: Unstoppable Book 3: Countdown,
has just been published by Scholastic.

Writing Workshop: Writers on Writing | 60second RecapThis might sound weird, but revision is my favorite part of writing…which is lucky, because I do a lot of it.

Writing fiction is kind of like sculpting, only harder, because, unlike a sculptor, a writer has to create her own clay. Your first draft is the clay. Revision is sculpting, molding, refining that clay into a work of art—the fun part!

Here’s my 7-step process.

1. Spew that first draft onto the paper.

Don’t worry about how good or bad it is. Just get it down. Write the story all the way to the end. Then set it aside for a while, as long as you can—at least a week. Don't peek! To do a good revision, you'll need to come back to the story with fresh eyes.

2. Have you waited? Good. Now read what you wrote.

The most important thing to keep in mind as you read is this: What you've written is not sacred or set in stone. All you've done is make some clay. You can shape it any way you like, or smush it up and start over. Don't get too attached to it. It's going to change, probably a lot, and that's a GOOD thing.

Some things to look for as you read your first draft:

Small problems:

Awkward phrasing
Awkward or unnecessary dialogue
Repetitious or unnecessary words, phrases, or information
Telling how a character felt rather than showing it
Scenes and actions that are boring or too similar
Anything that just doesn't feel right

Bigger problems:

Flat characters
Unbelievable action
Story doesn’t make sense
Not enough suspense
Beginning doesn't draw you in
Unsatisfying ending

Fix the easiest problems first. Sometimes fixing the smaller problems helps solve the bigger issues. As you read, list the bigger problems that you find. You can work on those in the next round.

3. If, while reading a line, paragraph, scene, or chapter, your brain asks: "Do I really need this?" chances are you don't.

If your writing feels draggy or dull, cut the dull parts and voila! Instant liveliness! If that scares you, create a "discard file," where you keep what you've cut. You can always put it back in (though I almost never do).

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford 60second Book Review

Check out our 60second Book Review of
How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Learn to love cutting your prose. It solves so many problems, and it's so easy!

4. Don't be afraid to make drastic changes to your story.

Move scenes around, cut the first 50 pages, cut whole subplots or add them if your story needs more. Do you have too many characters? Combining two or more into one will give them more depth.

5. Don't force your characters to do things that aren't working.

Did you have a certain ending in mind, but your characters just don't seem to want to go that way? Change it! Let your characters lead you down plot pathways you never thought of.

6. After you've revised the whole piece, set it aside again for a week or two.

Come back to it and repeat the process. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat…as often as necessary until you can't revise it anymore.

7. Once you've been through a couple of rounds of revisions, you'll have a strong sense of the structure of your story, of what happens when, of who your characters are.

The next time you revise, think of seeding in "connectors" or meaningful details that link the beginning, middle, and end of the story together. Sprinkle in early mentions of characters or events that are going to come up later, plant little hints that help create suspense, set up everything to make your climax pay off as effectively as possible. A big revelation is more satisfying if you've built up to it, so that when it happens it feels inevitable, even if it's a surprise.

Don't be afraid of revision! Get in there and dig into that clay. Remember that there's nothing you can't change. Shape it into the best story you can, and when you’re done, you may find your sculpture has come to life.


Natalie Standiford is the author of the YA novels How to Say Goodbye in Robot, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters, and The Boy on the Bridge. She also writes books for younger readers, including The Secret Tree, Switched at Birthday and The 39 Clues: Unstoppable Book 3: Countdown. She lives in New York City and plays bass in the all-YA-author band, Tiger Beat. Find out more at www.nataliestandiford.com.

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